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Passover Promotion Prompts Boycott Threat

by Paul Bass | Mar 20, 2013 1:44 pm

(18) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: Food, Religion, Dwight, Whalley

Paul Bass Photo Stop & Shop offered customers a holiday-season gift wrapped in plastic—only to discover it may have misled Jews into violating religious law.

The gift was an animal shank bone. Jews traditionally put a shank bone at the center of the seder plate for the festival table on the opening two nights of Passover, which begins this coming Monday evening at sundown and commemorates the Jewish people’s liberation from slavery in Egypt.

Jews observing the holiday stock up on special foods this time of year because of the holiday’s special kosher-observance (or kashrus) laws.

At this time last year, Stop & Shop supermarkets throughout the region placed plastic-wrapped shank bones in the kosher meat section as free promotions to shoppers. The packages were not marked as kosher; they were not approved by kosher authorities. But they were placed amid approved and marked kosher meats and cheeses.

Just as last year’s holiday was about to begin last year, New Haven Rabbi Daniel Greer (pictured in file photo) of the nearby Yeshiva of New Haven on Elm Street discovered the shank bones during a visit to the Whalley Avenue Stop & Shop. The discovery alarmed him: Not only might Jews unwittingly violate kosher laws by using the shank bones. Pots and plates that come into contact with the shank bones would be rendered un-kosher, as eventually might their entire kitchens.

Many Jews spend weeks cleaning their homes in anticipation for Passover with the goal of removing even the smallest traces of non-kosher-for-Passover foods; and they use special plates and pots for the occasion.

After making the discovery last year, Rabbi Greer informed Stop & Shop management, which apologized.

It turned out stores elsewhere in the area had put out the same promotional bones. Stop & Shop’s parent company, Ahold, issued the following statement: “Wrapped shank bones for the Seder, with no kosher markings, were made available in some supermarkets. Giant [another Ahold division] and Stop & Shop offered these bones free of charge. They were displayed in the kosher meat case. These bones were not kosher. Consumers who cooked or broiled these bones should consult their local rabbi regarding the kosher status of their stoves or utensils. Giant and Stop & Shop’s intentions were to service their valued kosher consumer. They regret any confusion they have inadvertently caused.”

The statement appeared this month in a national magazine called Kashrus to alert kosher shoppers to the problem, just in case it happened again.

And wouldn’t you know it? Rabbi Greer was back in the Whalley Stop & Shop this Monday evening—and saw people again buying the un-kosher shank bones, which had reappeared in the kosher case.

“It was right next to the Empire chicken under the sign ‘kosher,’” Greer said.

Tuesday he faxed the following note along with a copy of the Kashrus article to an official at Stop & Shop’s corporate headquarters:

“There is no excuse for distributing non-kosher meat bones by Stop & Shop for the Passover Seder. It is offensive—a sacrilege! Stop & Shop is misleading, angering and irritating its Jewish customers.

“This occurred last year and despite the apology it is now happening again. ... If this is not stopped, we will have to go public and urge the boycott of Stop & Shop, not only for Passover products, but all year round.”

A visit to the Whalley Avenue store Wednesday found the free shank “Passover” bones still being offered. They had been moved away from the kosher section, next to pork (which is an un-kosher food for observant Jews under any circumstances). A sign clearly stated that the shank bones are not kosher. (See photo at the top of the story.)

“We just want to offer our customers a choice of products,” a Stop & Shop spokeswoman, Arlene Putterman, told the Independent. “If they don’t have a kosher home, they certainly can have these at no charge.”

To Rabbi Greer, that is no solution.

For starters, he said, people may “elide” over the word “not” in the sign and just see “Passover” and “free.”

In any case, he asked, why is Stop & Shop bothering to give away treyf (non-kosher) shank bones for the holiday instead of kosher ones? He said it makes no sense to hand out treyf shank bones as part of a Passover promotion.

“Why don’t they just give out leavened matzah with lard on it?” he said. (Unleavened bread, or matzah, is required for Passover use; kosher laws prohibit eating lard any time of the year.) “It’s obscene. I think it’s a disgrace.” Greer said he is now bringing his complaint to the state consumer protection department.

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posted by: Carl Goldfield on March 20, 2013  2:29pm

Stop & Shop might not have gotten it right but I, for one, appreciate the sentiment. It makes me feel that Stop & Shop appreciates me and values my patronage. I want to thank Stop & Shop for trying to help me celebrate my holiday.

A little graciousness would serve well in this situation. I suggest that the rhetoric be toned down and replaced with gentle education. Save the outrage for malicious acts.

posted by: Curious on March 20, 2013  2:33pm

This guy needs to relax.  The final responsibility is on the consumer. This is similar to someone being outraged because they bought cookies with nuts in them by accident because the nut-free ones were sold on the same shelf.

If it’s that important, they will read the labels.  If the word “free” is more important to them than “kosher”, maybe he should be preaching to them more instead of accusing the people they are buying this stuff from.

posted by: JMS on March 20, 2013  3:36pm

“A little graciousness would serve well in this situation. I suggest that the rhetoric be toned down and replaced with gentle education. Save the outrage for malicious acts.”

I would echo these comments that there are many of us out there who celebrate and observe Passover with our families but do not adhere to strict kosher food preparation guidelines. There are also many of us out there who read labels.

posted by: ELMCITYPROF on March 20, 2013  4:07pm

Sounds like a well-intended gesture gone wrong. I certainly don’t think there was any malicious intent. Isn’t forgiveness an essential component of most spiritual traditions??

posted by: Gretchen Pritchard on March 20, 2013  4:32pm

Yeah but:  (a) the Rabbi presumably did the “gracious” approach last year and the store apologized and then did EXACTLY the same thing again this year; (b) if you really want to do somebody a favor, figure out how you can actually DO THEM A FAVOR, instead of doing them a half-a**ed version of the favor that actually screws things up for them, and then being surprised they aren’t grateful because “it’s the thought that counts.”

posted by: disconnect on March 20, 2013  4:35pm

BREAKING NEWS: People with dietary restrictions are responsible for meeting their dietary restrictions. News at 11.

I can kind of see Rabbi Greer’s point. If this product is aimed at a certain subset of the store’s population, then maybe it can be viewed at hamfisted at best on S&S’s part. It’s not even like the asshole of the group who makes fun of the vegetarian, it’s the friend who says, “Come on over for Superbowl, there’ll be wings, but I’ll leave the meat off the nachos.”

But “offensive”, “sacrilege”, “obscene”, “disgrace”? Really? You couldn’t have just said, “Hey, here’s this situation, maybe think about why it’s not such a good idea”?

To continue the nacho analogy, if you’re militant vegan and you can’t even be in a house where cheese exists, then don’t go in that house. Which means that yes, if you cannot abide non-kosher foods, and you’re not going to take it upon yourself to make sure that you keep kosher, maybe you should stay out of a store that contains non-kosher foods.

posted by: Jones Gore on March 20, 2013  4:42pm

I agree with the Rabbi when he asks why associate the shank bone to passover in the store when it isn’t kosher? Whats the reason for it?

posted by: beverlyhills06515 on March 20, 2013  5:09pm

High unemployment, terrible economy, rising food costs, and people are complaining that the over-priced grocery store is giving away free soup bones? Why not take it one step further and whine about a lack of free burgundy and bouquet garni preventing folks from building a lovely demi glace?

posted by: Walt on March 20, 2013  5:29pm

My understanding is that the majority of Jews, who celebrate Passover   are not strictly Kosher as Rabbi Greer requires, so,  if that is true ,  Greer has nothing to gripe about, as the food is apparently clearly marked   not Kosher

Seder,  as my own Catholic Church has a Seder Dinner each year near Easter,  is apparently not a Greer -controlled   description either,  so no legitimate gripe there either.

Am I wrong?

Wouldn’t S$S do better   to leave off the Passover part of the labelling next year,  include “Non-Kosher”, and make everyone happier?

posted by: Tilsen-Haven on March 20, 2013  6:59pm

At the risk of beating a dead sheep, would it be inoffensive if the store offered a FREE Passover ham?  Or if a restaurant offered a half-price Ramadan Lunch special? 
Yes, consumers have to be careful and responsible.  But I detest merchants who mislead (especially after it is pointed out to them, or in this case after they have reportedly promised not to do it), and merchants who encourage Jews to violate a fundamental of Jewish law.  It is misleading wording and misleading labeling.  Whether it is illegal or against common business ethics in Connecticut is a question, but it is clear that such marketing is a violation of traditional Jewish business ethics and apparently illegal under Jewish law (for those interested in such matters).  It reduces my respect for and confidence in the store.
If the store just made a mistake again, then OK, say you’re sorry and correct it. But if the store is defending it then there is still a problem.

posted by: Edward_H on March 21, 2013  7:49am

For starters, he said, people may “elide” over the word “not” in the sign and just see “Passover” and “free.”

Would this statement be considered anti-semitic if anyone other than a rabbi said it? This is almost as bad as the rapper and the fried chicken joint.

posted by: JPArete on March 21, 2013  8:33am

The reality is that there are many Jews (probably most of the NH area’s Jewish population) who do not adhere to laws and practices that Rabbi Greer and some posters count as fundamental to Jewish life. For them the fact that a lamb shank bone has not received a rabbinic stamp of approval is irrelevant to its use in the seder. Did Stop & Shop err egregiously in placing the unlabeled bone amidst products labeled kosher for Passover? Yes. But is there any problem with the store making free shank bones (appropriately placed and identified as not kosher for Passover) available for the many Jews who don’t care about their kashrut credentials? Certainly not. Rabbi Greer: those who share your conception of what Jewish observance requires are welcome not to take one of the properly labeled bones. But it is not Stop & Shop’s job to enforce your norms on those Jews with different views of authentic Jewish existence. So knock off the over-heated rhetoric, Rav Greer.

posted by: RCguy on March 21, 2013  10:14am

Magic!

posted by: HewNaven on March 21, 2013  11:19am

I’m curious, with the kind of spending power that the disparate jewish groups have in New Haven, why don’t they all pan together and start a bulk-buying group? They’d save themselves a lot of money. And, if they didn’t want to all come together, I’m sure even just one congregation would have ample demand to buy in bulk.

posted by: Schneur on March 21, 2013  12:42pm

This is not a religious matter, but a matter of truth in advertising. Misleading the consumer any consumer is not an ethical policy for any store.
This store has a kosher bakery and kosher meat thus implying a wish to cater to orthodox Jews.By offering this non kosher item for Passover many will be led into eating a non kosher item. In that case the store management is being duplicitous.
On the other hand the Kosher Supervision body supervising the bakery in this store is run by Rabbi Greer and his family and instead of a threat to boycott S&S he ought to remove his supervision from the bakery. A store that adopts a policy of misleading its consumers is not trustworthy for a kosher dept no matter who supervises it.

posted by: Stephen Harris on March 21, 2013  5:01pm

If I followed Kosher laws I would expect all the products in the Kosher food section to be Kosher. S&S should pay attention to what it sells, but Rabbi Greer (no stranger to hyperbole) should tone down the rhetoric a bit. There’s a Kosher food store (The Crown) in West Hartford.

posted by: Nathan on March 21, 2013  11:49pm

A few responses to various comments…

“If it’s that important, they will read the labels.”

That is, of course a consumer responsibility, but a confusing setup can mislead or fool even wary people.  For example, at Trader Joe’s, they often arrange a non-kosher brand of chicken with very similar packaging color and style next to a kosher brand.  More than once, I accidentally picked up the wrong package.  I was not, however, fooled by the kind people that randomly place pork products among that kosher chicken.  Nice try, funny guys.

“High unemployment, terrible economy, rising food costs, and people are complaining that the over-priced grocery store is giving away free soup bones?”

On a related note, there is, in fact, a beautiful tradition of inviting anyone hungry to join the Pesach (Passover) celebratory dinners.  A friend’s father, a rabbi in New York City, was apparently known for sending out his family to find such people to invite and feed.

“This store has a kosher bakery and kosher meat thus implying a wish to cater to orthodox Jews”

At one point - might still be true - the largest segment of the kosher meat market in this country was composed of Jews that affiliated with the Conservative movement and/or congregations.  I’ve known Jews from Reform congregations that exclusively purchased kosher meat as well.  I would, therefore, offer the thought that that statement should be “religious Jews”.

“At the risk of beating a dead sheep, would it be inoffensive if the store offered a FREE Passover ham?  Or if a restaurant offered a half-price Ramadan Lunch special?”

Thank you for proving my previous point, Rabbi Tilsen of the local Conservative congregation.  Can the promised redeemer be far behind when Jewish Conservative and Orthodox rabbis are supporting the same causes for religious Jews?  Peace in our time may be upon us.

posted by: leibzelig on March 22, 2013  10:27am

Thank you, Nathan, for bringing out two very important points: that many if not most Conservative and many Reform Jews keep kosher. So implying that only Orthodox Jews are affected by events such as happened at Stop and Shop is just wrong. The second is that merchants have an obligation to provide the product as labeled and to do everything in their power to make sure that happens. I wish all Jews a happy and meaningful Passover.

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